a guide to the “gallery guide to new york city”
Well, I may have swung and missed, and I would ask your apology if I’ve done so. My last blog insulted one of my readers, which I never intended to do. And so, I’ve got a bit of background to flesh out.
One year ago, I was at a gallery event in Chelsea with a wonderful couple. They are an unassuming, softspoken pair, and they prefer to stay in the background. They purchased many pricey paintings at the event, and then stood by the window quietly. A phone was resting on the window sill, and this fellow picked it up and said “Somebody must have left their phone. Let’s check and see whose it is, so that we can return it to them.” As he picked it up, the gallery owner came over. He snapped at the fellow and said “That’s my phone, don’t touch it. Some people just don’t mind their own business.” You see, the fellow who had purchased the paintings was so common looking, that the gallery owner didn’t even realize that this was the individual who had just purchased so many paintings. I stood in astonishment. The generous benefactor simply did not fit the “artsy” profile of the collector. The couple were very insulted, and walked out the door.
A few nights ago, I headed into Manhattan on the train. I was off to an exhibition uptown, and I was excited. I took the subway uptown, and bounded out onto the street. As I was walking, I realized I must have made a wrong turn. I was standing in front of the Steinway Piano building, and the doors were wide open. Hmm, I thought- I’ve always wanted to visit this place. I had a full hour to spare, and so I entered the building. As I rounded the doorway, I entered a massive marble hall, covered in frescoes and oil paintings. In the center was a young woman, performing some dazzling excercises on a beautiful Steinway grand piano. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. There were chairs set up in front of the piano, and I asked an onlooker if I might stay. “Yes” she replied. “We do this regularly, for free. We want to bring music into people’s lives. Steinway is about music into the world.” I was so touched, I thanked her. I sat down amazed, as the room began to fill up. There were people from every walk of society- I heard one couple conversing in three languages. Beside me was a cartoonist from Japan. Beyond the cartoonist was a famous music professor. How kind, how generous, what a wonderful vision. The international pianist, Hitomi Koyama, performed the Schubert Sonata in A Major, D. 959. It was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever heard. Her emotions were so in touch with the music, there was no dry technique. I was so moved. After the piece ended, many people came up to me. “Hello, who are you? What do you do? Thanks so much for coming. Please come again.” I passed on a card to the woman who was running the show, and she had wonderful things to say about the art work on my card.
I made my way out into the night air, and headed towards the gallery. My head was swimming with the beauty of Schubert’s sonata, and Hitomi’s performance.
I arrived at the gallery. As I walked up to the door, I was approached by a man. “Name.” I said my name, and he poured through the list. “Mr. McEvoy, we see you have a reservation, but how did you come to know about the event? You are obviously an artist. This event is only open to collectors and the constituents of the artist.” I was so insulted. I told him of my friendship with one star artist. He allowed me to pass. I walked around the show. There were really well known artists there. The art work was oftentimes calculated for commercial purposes, where the artists painted a piece for a certain sale. At times, the art was nice, but the atmosphere was so cold that I had a hard time appreciating it. Eventually, my artist friend recognized me, and greeted me warmly. She passed on a few kind words, then wished me a good night. Her artwork reflects her kind spirit.
I returned to the cold, winter air with a sadness. Why had Steinway sent me out singing, and this gallery sent me out dejected? It is because certain people have decided to have an opposite vision to that of Steinway- painting is about a select few. This elitism is not necessarily about money, it is about the established network of individuals. Everybody owes everybody a favor, and that is how the scene works. Many gallery owners (not all), have cordoned off the movement of classical realism, reserving it for the few. Art salons used to exhibit hundreds of paintings, open to the public. Tens of thousands of people would come. Now though, the fine art world of classical realism is making no effort to reach society. It is a tight network of insiders that are only concerned with securing sales with certain collectors. How sad.
As I headed home on the train, my mind jumped back and forth between Classical music and Classical realism, between artistic sincerity and slick commercial venues, between art and artifice. And as I sat on the train, I wondered how I am so lucky as to be surrounded by a web of the kindest, most giving individuals. I am amazed by the generosity of these people, and how they are never purchasing a piece for vanity’s sake. Though they love art, they are not “artsy.” They genuinely love the art, and they genuinely support me. They open their homes, their lives, their worlds to me and my family. I’m so lucky to be able to exist outside of the New York City gallery circuit- and I’m so grateful. This blog has become my gallery, a web of kindred spirits. I’m so charged by this support!
And so, I’m just ending this blog with a summary. My art is about opening people’s eyes to seeing art where you may not have ever seen it. My art is about the worth of the human spirit, wherever it is found- from an illegal immigrant in Riverhead, to a nomadic playwright from southern England, to a distinguished doctor in Manhattan. And the thing that makes me the most angry is when art is privatized, compartmentalized into the hands of a few. It has nothing to do with money, as some of the wealthiest are turned away from membership. It has to do with cultural elitism, and power. I left the gallery in Manhattan as angry as Martin Luther was angry about sermons being preached in Latin, preventing the masses from participating. If I had a nail and a long piece of paper, I would have nailed my 95 theses to the door of the gallery. Except for the fact that the door was glass. It would have shattered. That would have been embarrassing and difficult to explain to a New York City cop. And so, my past blog, the “gallery guide to new york city” was my 95 theses, angrily nailed to the door of the elitist behavior of the movement of classical realism. We’re behaving just like the bizarre modern schools of art, when this language of painting, classical realism, was meant for everybody. The Renaissance patrons, the Medici, actually employed realism as a tool of conveying messages to the masses! The Renaissance patronage system sought to convey the most profound themes in the most universal language possible. Is that our goal, today? Rather than being Dada artists, practicing an art form reserved for the select few, we should be stained glass, where our art strives to speak to every man. Arnolfo di Cambio’s bronze sculpture of St. Peter, in the Vatican, has a foot that is worn down by the untold millions of pilgrims who reach out to touch it. Are today’s realists above this?
I would really appreciate comments on this blog in particular, if you are at all interested in this topic.